Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Pastoring, the Organic Way

Does it look uppity to quote myself, if in my original quote, I was quoting someone else?

I'd like to draw your attention to this fine post from last year, which I am allowed to call a "fine post" because, though I wrote it, it consisted almost entirely of quotes from a 40 year old book.

Really, I want to talk about the notion of spiritual discipline. Not the kind of "spiritual discipline" you'd find by most definitions, but rather, the accountability that comes via the development of organic Christian communities.

How many Christian acquaintances do you know that have had marital problems and gotten divorced without anyone even knowing about it before it happens? Affairs? Major problems at work or being unable to pay bills?

Suburban sprawl has made it possible to move into a nice area, have a big house with a 2-car garage, go to work, come home, pull in the garage, and never even really know the neighbors. But people back in the first century didn’t have that privilege. They had small houses that were stacked right up against each other, and they all knew each other’s business. They didn’t have the kind of secrets we have today. Shoot, when they got married, the wedding party even stood outside the hut while the couple consummated the marriage! That’s a LOT more open than what we’re used to. I'm pretty open, but I don't even think I'd be comfortable with THAT.

People that make a commitment to "throw their lives in together" are making a commitment that's about more than just keeping anyone from having any material need, as in Acts 2 and 4. It's about real accountability, real discipleship, and real pastoring. It's mentoring and being mentored. It's praying, learning, and teaching together, all while living life together. It's about being a light on a hill. Both loving people where they're at, and at the same time being hagiazo -- sanctified, set apart.

People have different gifts, and some people are natural shepherds. I know a few guys (and girls) that are smart, Godly, and have a tremendous heart for people. One is a paid "minister," and a couple are not. Some are "official" elders, some I'd consider "unofficial" elders. Whether or not someone draws a paycheck is not the dividing line between whether someone can pastor people or not.

The goal here is to allow people to grow into these roles. It's about submitting to one another and being honest, transparent, and vulnerable. And yes, even chastising when the need arises.

Functional vs Organic. Functional has its place. But it's not what drives a movement.


Rennar Hoelsk said...

Martin Luther wrote this in a tract in 1522:

"Whoever teaches the gospel to another is truly his apostle and good and great is God’s work and ordinance!”

Priesthood of our priests does not cancel the priesthood of all believers in the holy ghost. Lutherans knows this is true. Priests are for making us one in the sacrament, not for dividing me by arguments.

Your article remind me of "The Hammer of God" by bo Giertz. Its a Lutheran book. A young pastor leaves from seminary to his first charge feeling very proud of himself. Before he even gets starts he is called house of a dying peasant. The smell and horror make him faint and peuk, and he runs out. But the peasants they love him and truly want his blessing for the dying man.

Pastor is so moved by their love and faith he is completly shaken and he repents to God. But he go way too far and makes him a fanatic without love and hates anyone who is not fanatic also. He challenges his bishop. But the bishop loves him, and he sees in bishop the love like the peasant that first called him into true faith.

They dying peasant and the bishop were both true pastors to him and he grew up in Jesuss. He learns that with no LOVE the Word is not the Word, and the Office has not authority of God.

Without loving peasants there is no Church. Without love, there is not Truth. Withot love a pastor is just a hire-ling. Without love all he learnt at seminary is clanking brass. Without love he is nothing.

I like to to read your articles boys. All they are all good.

Do you like my picture? Ha ha ha! Now I love Lutheran but I am unLutheran too!

Adam Colter said...

What this post is talking about is true community (koinonia - nod to Joe B). Is community a movement? Maybe this kind of community results in a movement - but can the community set out to be a movement - to influence those outside the comunity in such a way that it draws them in - and still maintain this authentic "life togetherness"? The New Testament church and the disciple of Jesus were clearly intended to be both community and movement, but how do we focus on one without losing neglecting the other? This tension of togetherness, yet seeking to draw others in should be and is present in many churches (communities of disciples), but few seem to find a solution that doesn't lean heavily one way or the other - or simlpy take on the appearance on being paralyzed somewhere in the middle. A little clarity from a smart person on what I'm trying to get address would be welcome.

Joe B said...

An institution is a framework that exists to conserve or promote something. Kind of like a wine skin exists to store and dispense wine.

A community can exist IN an institution, but it is not an institution per se. A community is more like the wine. It is the "it" for which the wine skin exists.

Here's the catch. An institution cannot LOVE, because it is essentially an abstract set of rules and roles that exist apart from the people it serves. A community CAN love, because it IS the people...people in whom Christ lives by his spirit.

There is an innate tension between wine skin and wine. The skin must yield, or else it destroys itself and the contents it exits to serve.

New Wine is dynamic. Institutions tend to grow static, conserving themselves instead of their living contents.

SO...the tension between being a community of cohesion and a community of inclusion is mainly an institutional problem, not a community problem.

Communities CAN go dead and behave like institutions, though. Like a teenage clique. They begin to be based on rules and roles, and become rigid against the living and fluid substance of love.

The cure? Repentance.

Joe B said...

I love it when Adam comes around. And Rennar, welcome. What fascinating thoughts!

I actually read The Hammer of God 1992, and it was a huge shaping influence in my life. I learned a lot about respecting other traditions (yes, even Lutherans!)

Sounds like you must be a pastor...I doubt if many others read it.

scott said...

Adam, my thinking is this: If someone focuses entirely on being a "movement," it's probably going to fail. Or it becomes an "institution." Not to mention, a couple of people insisting that they are a "movement" sounds really pretentious, doesn't it?

So I suppose I should try to avoid using that word much. Hmm. Yeah.

I think I'd want the community to thrive more than the movement. I'd want to be that light that draws in others, but I don't necessarily need to focus on making it into the Next Huge Thing. You go one heart and soul at a time.

Humility. A humble heart. Love. A desire to follow God's spirit wherever it might lead. And, like Joe said, a bunch o' repentance.

Anonymous said...

Can't we be just a little bitty Next Huge Thing?

Joe B said...

I just reread that last year post and the thread of comments. Even some interesting comments from Big Doofus. It's funny, nothing really has changed on our side of the equasion. Still working out how to live in genuine churistian community against the tide of suburban isolation.

I really wonder whether the Abbey truly needs to be a residential facility. How can you share much of anything when you live miles apart? Everything has to be preplanned and prescheduled. The spontaneos intimacy of village life got air-conditioned out of American consciousness.

Rennar Hoelsk said...

In The USA you are alone unless you go to buy something. If you do not come togther you sit alone eating. Do not walk together we drive alone. We cannot sit beside our boats and count our fishes. Now we sell our fishes and take the money home, after we forgot who caught no fishes.

Now real things are symbol things. We drive alone to eucharist then drive away again. That is a very different way.

Christi R said...

This was beautifully written, Scott... kudos to you! And it is an absolutely wonderful concept. I think I mentioned in a previous post that I love the idea of community, although I'm a pretty solitary person these days. But your "vision" of a community of people who truly "throw their lives in together" is also scary! I don't necessarily mean that in a bad way. I mean that it depends heavily (really heavily) on trust... and on being willing to put yourself out there.

We've become used to living on our own. Rennar stated that very well. You, Scott, use the example of people having problems that no one knows about until it's too late. Partially that's because we've (I'm using we've as a general term) become a society that looks the other way. I have a theory that we don't like to look too closely at our neighbors because we don't want them looking too closely at us. But the other side of the coin, I think, is that people are less likely to ask for help today. Maybe it's shame or embarrassment, maybe it's something more, but people don't seem to reach out for a helping hand. Maybe it's because they are scared there won't be a hand reaching back!

Now about what I find scary in your vision. I don't really like the term "scary" in this case, but it's the best I can come up with right now. You talk about accountability - "It's about submitting to one another and being honest, transparent, and vulnerable". How scary is that? Because we know that before we can be honest and transparent with others, we have to be honest and transparent with ourselves. I'm certain I'm not the only person out there who thinks this is scary. I'm not sure people really like to look at themselves to closely. I know I'm one of my own harshest critics. I see beauty in others, but when I look at myself and am honest with myself - I see my failings, my faults, all the things I've done wrong, so of course, I try not to look to closely.

The other part that I find scary is that you are putting your trust, your faith in other people. What you are proposing, means you have to open yourself up and then trust that the community is going to accept you and love you for who you are. And let's not forget that while people back in the first century may have been more involved in their neighbors' lives, they also occasionally stoned their neighbors if they didn't like them. :-) Not that I'm saying the community you talk about would actually stone someone but rejection comes in many forms.

So, it takes faith and trust and work... I do still think it's an awesome concept!!

Joe B said "I really wonder whether the Abbey truly needs to be a residential facility".
I see where you are going with that, Joe B, and to a certain extent I understand your point. But I think you have to be careful because then this starts to look more like an actual institution and less like a community. I know, I know... the two can exist together. But of course if it's an actual residential facility then it also excludes anyone who doesn't live within those walls. Of course it's your concept, so you probably know better than me. Just something to think about.

So, those are just my two or three cents on the matter. Again, really enjoyed reading the post and all the comments.

Joe B said...

Welcome, new follower Byron. Folks, go check out his blog. Good stuff!

Larry Gwaltney said...

I really wonder whether the Abbey truly needs to be a residential facility. How can you share much of anything when you live miles apart?

What do you MEAN by that, exactly?

Joe B said...

Well, I don't know how exact I can be about a statement that begins with "I wonder". Take it in context of the post and the comments, I guess. First, "resisidential facility" was just a play on the metaphorical "Abbey", not a proposal for a construction project.
A good point was made by Rennar H that often we are strangers within our own congregations. A guy named John Meuther attributes this to people "shopping congregations" as though they were restausrants, and I agree. The result is a jagged segregation of sacred life from secular life. The koinonia of "Acts 2" gets reduced to symbolism instead of actual life lived in an actual community. This was hardly an issue in the 1st c. when all the members of my church may have lived in an area the size of the parking lot, and most everyone knew how they were related to everyone else, where extended clans slept practically piled in a room or two, where nobody had glass in their windows, and where whole neighborhoods cooked over a common fire.

It would be very nice if Plan A (i.e., telling people where and with whom they must worship) had survived the 20th c., but alas, people now have cars and exercise choices. Just telling them more loudly is not likely to reverse history. Even when people do share church membership, they do so on the terms of the ambient culture, so the actual community is often no more salient than what you'd find in a Little League park.

Plan B for vibrant, reproducing Christians communities might involve urging those who do wear the yoke together deliberately living in close proximity. Healthy human communities are not only essential for discipleship, but they are also naturally proliferative (uh, I mean they grow and spread.) Movements merely imitate healthy community dynamics, as Mr. Wesley's work attests.

In terms of the people we eat and sleep with, the 21st century suburbs (and suburban congregations) suffer a degree of disclocation equal to any slum in Mexico City or Bangalore. It's an enormous pastoral challenge. But it's an enormous opportunity for the gospel too, if we adapt to the changing environment. The question is how.

Sorry. That was LONG!! ;-P

scott said...

Wait a minute, what's wrong with a proposal for a construction project? :-)

An actual "residential facility" is not necessarily a bad idea, because it solves the problem of "suburban isolation," plus it has the potential to be a much more efficient way to live and share possessions, as well as to parent children. Perpetually unused spare bedrooms are the scourge of middle class America.

However, I'm not advocating being 21st century Essenes and living in a compound, cut off from society (as we like to say, when the Bureau of ATF comes calling, you know you've gone too far). Far from it. I'm picturing something right in the middle of town, right where everyone is! Backyard barbecues all summer, and the whole neighborhood is invited over to share in the love feast.

^ And that's what we refer to as "wild idealism that will never actually happen." The more realistic ideal is to be deliberate in living close together, so far as being in the same neighborhood or street.

Jan Kelley said...

Christi, you spoke what i am thinking. Joe B. , I am wishing this concept would be utilized by the church. I love the "institution" of the church. I love the "feeling" I get from worshiping with a mass of believers and singing and hearing prayers and partaking of the Lord's supper and just bring with fellow believers. Couldn't you and the followers of the unchurch, be like "yeast" in different fellowships Bring the concept of scripture-being-written-on-our-hearts and ignite this fire. It must be understood that we are to take the message of, and the by-products of, our realization that Christ died for us, to the world in which we interact everyday. Help the saints, them/us, to understand the necessity of our personal role in "go ye therefore and teach..." and the necessity of our being "salt" and "yeast" and that to be "salt" and "yeast" or "light " in the darkness, we must get outside of our church pew and actually interact with the masses. Time is passing and one day our time to be yeast, salt, and light and will have passed and the opportunities that God had planned for us will be forever gone. We will be saved, but those we were created to bring to Him will be forever lost. Heartbreaking.

Christi R said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RMW said...

It is probably worth considering that at a basic level “community” means investment. This is true of a physical community or a spiritual community. The all too often true observation that church is an institution, rather than a community of believers can be easily tested.

All one has to do is honestly and fully answer someone when asked; “how are you doing?” Within 30 seconds you will begin to see the eyes dart left and right as the person plans their escape route. If you can manage to hold them captive for a minute, you may well provoke a “flight” reaction which can be damaging to carpeting as it leads to skid marks. After all, a person has to be invested in another person to care how they are doing.

Another factor is that many people have assigned proxy to others in such matters. It is the minister’s duty to visit the sick, the Elders and prayer warriors are to pray for concerns all of which is easily arranged and handled for membership and tithing.

Yes, investment is messy and unfortunately for many, it is what Jesus called upon us to do.

Christi R said...

"It would be very nice if Plan A (i.e., telling people where and with whom they must worship) had survived the 20th c."

Joe B - just out of curiosity why do you think that telling people where to worship is better than giving them a choice? That's certainly an interesting perspective.

Joe B said...

Well, Christi, again you've harpooned my oversimplification. I guess I really don't think that. I'm just saying that if the "no choice" system ever worked, its time is long past. A "shut up and eat your oatmeal" approach to leadership and authority does not answer the basic problem.

Joe B said...

"Couldn't you and the followers of the unchurch, be like "yeast" in different fellowships Bring the concept of scripture-being-written-on-our-hearts and ignite this fire."

What a great idea! But hey, we didn't invent it. People do that by the millions and millions, and it wasn't because we told them to. It's because the spirit of God lives in them. Like wet footprints on the floor, they leave patches of green, blooming life wherever they tread.

"...hope does not disappoint us, for God has poured out his love into our hearts by the holy spirit whom he has given us."
(Romans 5:something-or-other)

Tonya said...

I'm a few days behind, but wanted to agree with Scott and Christi in that paying attention (and YIKES, loving!) the people around you is where it starts. You don't have to be in an institution to do that; everyone can, and should, do it. Even within your own household, are you DOING something within the will of God that is adding value to the others in your household. It comes down to this: God doesn't speak to you just to help YOU grow and learn; He does it so you can DO something for Him. If you aren't paying attention to, and trusting, the people around you, then what are you doing for them, and what are you doing for Him?